Writing an adventure story My seventh form art folio Being a rock star Looking cool
- Being a poet
- Being a playwright
- Being an academic
- Writing a novel
- Having a wildly successful blog
Here is a dull way to start a post:
It shows unemploment rates in New Zealand from 1986 to 2009. The green line is the unemployment rate for people over 19 years of age, and the blue line is the youth unemployment rate. As it happens this is a very important piece of information when it comes to my life story.
When I finished high school at the end of 1990 I decided that I would get a part time job, save some money, and then go to France. I would do this with a friend of mine, and while we were in France we would get part time jobs, travel and I would do things like write poetry. As you can see this was a cast-iron, well thought out and totally idiot-proof plan firmly based in reality. Without going into all of the reasons that this was never, ever, ever going to work, let’s go back to the graph.
With the exception of right now, the worst time for a youth to look for a job in the last twenty-five years was between 1991 and 1995. In 1991 I was a fellow with no work experience, questionable fashion sense, a quiet and mumbly personality, and bursary. The amazing thing is that I actually got two job interviews. One was for the Government Press, and the other for a travel agency. I was unsuccessful in both cases. This little brush with job hunting taught me two things about failure. Firstly, you really need to be aware of your environment before you pour your energies into a project. It would have been useful for me to have read the newspaper in 1991 and discover the youth unemployment rate’s historic high. Secondly, on the whole if you are going to do well in something you need to be able to sell yourself to a certain extent. This was surprising new information for me in 1991. I suppose I had envisaged life as being a series of opening doors, and was shocked to discover that you not only had to get off your arse and go and knock at doors yourself, but that most of those doors would remain closed, and if they opened at all it would only be a crack and you would have to talk your way in.
So I did what any sensible chap would do at this point: I went back to school and stayed there for a long time.
Actually looking back on these six months at the beginning of 1991 I think I learned a lot about life. I was on the dole at that time. I sometimes have students at my school who tell me they are going to leave school when they are 16 and go on the dole and that it will be sweet getting free money for doing nothing. In my experience it was sweet for about a month and then it was crap. Mainly it was crap because I had dreams (the go to France thing), and the dole in no way allowed you access to those dreams, but it was also crap because I lost touch with all of my friends who were off doing exciting things at university while I went stagnant, and because reporting to my Employment Officer at Work and Income, and looking through the job listings, and getting rejection letters every week was a soul destroying process that made me feel worthless.
Nevermind, in these difficult times before I scurried off to university halfway through 1991, I had recourse to poetry. For some reason I have kept the notebook where I wrote out all of the “good” copies of my poems from this time. My god it is bad. Bad, bad, bad. It is so bad I hestitate to put any of it here, but this would be cheating. So here we go. Two representative pieces. I had only two themes it would seem (both cliched). One was unrequited love, and the other was generalised anger at society and feeling that life was meaningless.
Do you watch the games I play (soccer?)
Did you see what I say (did I what now?)
I felt like falling at your feet
If I thought you would see (but otherwise forget it)
I can say I love you today
And wait and see what you say
If I’m waiting it’s raining
May I stand in your eyes and shine?
(sound of retching from audience)
Sorry. One more. This one is about being misunderstood (man).
Don’t you come across trying to analyse me
I’m a man that’s all I’ll ever be
I don’t even know who I am
How can you pretend to understand?
Don’t give me your meaningful stares
I’ve got passions, more than you could bear
I feel like a stone with a heart inside
I’m burning up but I’m cold in your eyes.
Firstly let me say that these poems are not addressed to anyone in particular. Not the horrible, vomit-inducing “love” poem, or the laughable crappiness of the nobody-understands-me poem. My favourite line is “I’m a man that’s all I’ll ever be”. It makes me laugh out loud every time I reread it. The follow up line is pretty good too giving us the one-two punch of “this is what I am/I don’t know what I am”. I also quite like how both poems really rise to the occasion at the end. That whole rain/shine, stone/heart, burning/cold thing is awesome.
The failure here is clear. It is the inexperienced writer resorting to hackneyed ideas. I abandoned poetry and went into lyric writing at which I was a bit better (but not much).
Many years later I went on a creative writing course for secondary school students and their teachers. Before we went we were asked to write a poem about a piece of clothing, and a short story about an animal. When we were there we were split into groups and shared our poems and stories with each other. I am a great fan of the poem I wrote for this exercise, which coincidentally was about the period that I have covered in the last couple of posts and the leather jacket I am wearing in the Jim Morrison post. I was sufficiently encouraged by my peers to send it off to a literary magazine, but it was rejected – “quite good of its type, but not original” – which was wounding enough for me to retreat completely from the field. Handling rejection is another thing I am bad at, and a very important thing you can learn from failure, but this will be in the next post.
Anyway, here is the poem.
I loved my leather jacket
I gave it to my now vanished friend
back when I was a lizard
king, back when I thought
I could do anything
before I got fat, old and bald
before I found I was not at all
the hooligan I wanted to become
but preferred quiet nights in